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New directions for science campus master planning and investment

At our first autumn 'Science Cities' discussion in the City of London this week, Barts Life Sciences, HOK, Deloitte, Scott Brownrigg, David Lock Associates and Stevenage Borough Council came together to talk about campus design developments, that continue to make the UK attractive for international life sciences investment.

The discussion featured the proposed Whitechapel innovation campus currently waiting for the announcement of planning permission and the exchange of site to a developer, Cardiff University's new Translational Research Hub that opened in July, the growth of new town Stevenage and its Bioscience Catalyst, and the master planning of Harlow and Harwell science parks, for health and wellbeing.

There were important questions to be answered around:

  • the preservation of heritage sites where new innovation districts are being planned?

  • why there should be strong strategies to grow community involvement in new science districts?

  • how flexible lab spaces should be designed to cope with the changing demands of science research?

  • why towns and cities need to pay close attention to the standard of housing and cultural attractions around science parks if they are to draw international talent?

  • why health and wellbeing should be at the heart of science campus master planning?

  • how areas of outstanding natural beauty can be preserved as science campuses expand?

Deloitte was able to describe the physical and social systems for sustainable science clusters, the importance of developing strong unique selling propositions for science park development and achieving sensible investment structures.

Above: The Whitechapel campus of Queen Mary University London (from Barts Life Sciences), adjacent to the Royal London Hospital

Barts' Programme Director for Life Sciences, Sven Bunn described the historic environment, into which it is hoped that the new Whitechapel innovation district will be built, if planning permission is granted by Tower Hamlets - and a development partner announced later this year:

'We have a long tradition of innovation in Whitechapel, it is home to the one of the oldest hospitals in the country and has a leading edge in healthcare and research. There is a massive opportunity here to build the innovation district, re-using some of the older buildings on site and using areas of land that are vacant. It is a complicated site with lots of underground tunnels and a mix of buildings including a 1910 outpatient block and a 1920s sexual health clinic, with some further buildings from the 1960s. The challenge is to create one million square feet of adaptable space for scientists with supporting offices. The blue tower of the new Royal London Hospital is very distinctive and makes a statement and we need to be able to put in other buildings that are complementary. We have confidence in the investment of the site, but it all requires physical space.'

Barts says that in order to build on the significant life sciences work already undertaken at Barts Health, it plans to create a thriving life sciences centre at the heart of a vibrant cluster which will sit next door to The Royal London Hospital.

In July 2018, the Department of Health and Social Care bought underused land from Barts Health to kick-start the development of this cutting-edge research campus:

'The plan is to develop several plots of land left over following the development of the new Royal London Hospital into one of the most modern research facilities in Europe. The land covers a ground area equivalent to two-and-a-half football pitches.

The new development will create up to 11,500 full-time jobs and will be a powerful incentive for attracting new start-ups and other innovative and dynamic enterprises. Revenue will be reinvested back into local healthcare, securing clinical and financial sustainability.'

Above: CGI of Cardiff University's Innovation Campus on Maindy Road, with the Translational Research Facility on right (HOK)

The discussion turned to the investment in Cardiff University's 'Translational Research Hub', which opened in July this year and has benefitted from designs by architects, HOK.

The University states that researchers in the Institute for Compound Semiconductors (ICS) and Cardiff Catalysis Institute (CCI) use state-of-the-art TRH facilities to collaborate with commercial partners. They work across sectors including energy, advanced materials, transport, communication, and healthcare, creating new technologies and charting innovative research directions. Funded by UK and Welsh governments, TRH enables the design, development and testing of cleaner, greener products and processes using the Hub’s bespoke laboratories, offices, shared collaborative spaces, bespoke ERDF-funded cleanroom and state-of-the art microscopy suite.

It says:

'The 129,000-sq-ft research hub, designed by HOK London Studio, exemplifies UK and Wales commitments to new collaborative scientific solutions to Net Zero. A first-in-class ICS ERDF-funded cleanroom features the capability to trial, establish and scale new and innovative Compound Semiconductor devices to an industrial standard on wafers up to 200mm in diameter. And CCI’s bespoke Electron Microscopy Facility will deliver expertise and capability in nanomaterial imaging, analysis and characterization, facilitating new approaches to catalyst design and synthesis. The building has been supported by UK and Wales funders, including £17.3m through UKRPIF, £12m from Welsh Government, £13.1m in European funding administered by WEFO, and £2.7m from HEFCW. TRH sits next door to Cardiff’s newly-opened sbarc|spark building, home to the Social Science Research Park (SPARK) and Cardiff Innovations@sbarc – the University’s creative base for spinouts and start-ups.'

HOK's Regional Leader of Science + Technology, Gary Clark, described at Future Cities Forum how these are state of the art labs that rank with the best anywhere in the world:

'The University has amazing contacts with industry, and it is working on using science to solve real world problems. It needs these labs to stay ahead with the work that is taking place in China, Japan and other countries. The design encompasses the largest clean room anywhere in the UK, and probably Europe. The design needs to be flexible and open plan to cope with current and future tasks that the University will be working on.

'We have also been working on The Advanced Research Centre at The University of Glasgo'The UK government still has to be challenged not to lose momentum because once building the science engine, the effort has to be made to build enough houses and schools to create communities. We live in an uncertain environment at the moment as far as the economy is concerned, but we must look long term over a 20-year journey.

w, with all science departments at the University having a place in it. We have designed it like a warehouse that can be changed over time with sustainability at its heart. It is designed to have a life of 120 years plus and be adaptable. We have been inspired by the model of the Victorian warehouse of the 1870's that has height and depth.

Despite the success of the work that HOK is carrying out in this area, Gary went on to air his economic fears:

'I am now sensing trouble ahead with interest rate rises and whether this will yield profitability of schemes and whether they will become less attractive for investment. We also need the infrastructure to be built to join up the golden triangle. Will the UK government inspire the confidence to unlock follow on space - that if we build, tenants will come? How can we use seed funding wisely?'

This was an issue that Mike Standing, Partner at Deloitte, picked up saying that it was very important that the UK government does not 'drop the ball' now, having invested in the 'engines' of science centres, but follows through with necessary support for infrastructure and city/town development around them.

Mike is the Strategy and Architecture lead partner in Deloitte Major Programmes. An expert in the field of continuous programmatic strategy, he has over 30 years of experience in the Life Sciences and Healthcare sector, advising on corporate strategy, marketing transformation, supply chain, operations and organisational restructuring, and currently co-leads Deloitte’s work on the UK’s covid-19 national testing programme.

He said:

'The UK government still has to be challenged not to lose momentum because once building the science engine, the effort has to be made to build enough houses and schools to create communities. We live in an uncertain environment at the moment as far as the economy is concerned, but we must look long term over a 20-year journey.'

Above: CGI of Stevenage town centre regeneration - for SG1, the joint venture between Stevenage Borough Council and Mace Group

On those important points from HOK and Deloitte, Future Cities Forum included a detailed look during the discussion at the new town of Stevenage and how the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst has helped grow the town's economy.

Stevenage Borough Council describes the town's need for new investment to prosper:

'Stevenage Town Centre was largely built in the years following 1946, when it was named the UK’s first New Town. Like many other New Towns, there are real assets that benefit local people: over 40km of cycleways, outstanding parks and open space, family homes and local facilities as well as space for local businesses. But, as time has passed, there are significant challenges too. Many of the buildings in the town centre have aged at the same time and at the same rate, leaving a tired environment in need of investment, and struggling to secure new, aspirational investors.

'In addition, due to a number of factors including the decline of physical retail and the simultaneous growth in online shopping, the town centre has needed a major intervention. We have drawn upon a number of high-level studies to develop the regeneration of the town centre. The vision is to transform it from a solely retail-led area, to a mixed and thriving space where retail, commercial, residential, cultural, leisure and other facilities are based in the same central spaces, increasing the demand for services based here and, in the future, bringing life back to the area. Like other towns, sectors like commercial space, leisure and retail have been deeply impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and a strong local partnership approach is needed to draw in funding to kickstart regeneration and bring vibrancy.

'Our aim is to capture the opportunities presented by the regeneration of the town and some of the thriving STEM businesses – including a world-class life sciences cluster – to help create jobs and skills opportunities for local people, as well as to help create a thriving local economy.'

Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst is a leading location for companies to develop and commercialise cutting edge therapeutics. Companies based at the Stevenage Campus employ over 3,500 people. The Campus is home to major organisations including GSK, the Cell and Gene Therapy Manufacturing Catapult, LifeArc and Cytiva alongside a growing cluster of start-up companies which together have raised £2.9bn in funding. Located within the golden triangle and the academic centres of London, Cambridge and Oxford, SBC is ideally positioned for the translation and scale-up of cutting-edge innovation.

The deputy CEO of Stevenage Borough Council Tom Pike was asked at Future Cities Forum, whether the town could hold on to statements by Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst, claiming that investment in science is enabling product development to be delivered 9 months faster than at other science parks and the deal size that companies receive is five times the size of that of science parks in Oxford or Cambridge?

Tom explained:

'Some successes come from our very large development site. Within the town there is also strong support for start-ups. Our challenge in the future, it is how to grow our start-ups and how to regenerate the town to attract people to live and work there. We need to look at how Cambridge has developed around the station and make sure we create a great front door.'

Tom was asked whether the collegiate nature of the campus had helped start-ups develop and which cultural attractions would be put in place in the town to attract people to re-locate:

'The collegiate effect has given start-ups access to training rooms and specialist support from a wide range of firms. Companies coming out of the campus have raised £2.9 billion and that shows a real merit in collaborative working. We are also now developing 65 thousand square feet of science space in the town.

''We need lots of green spaces in the town, which doesn't have a history like Oxford or Cambridge, but we need to focus on areas of success, the great quality of housing and creating a mix of that for younger people, so that living here is much easier on cost, but also ensuring family homes are being built too. We need leisure such as theatre, sport and outdoor space.

'How have we achieved our success so far? It has been challenging, but we have a very good Chair of the local development board and through commitment, we have created a momentum to get things done.'

Above: Harlow Science Park in Essex, part of the 'diamond' shape linking the innovation clusters of Cambridge, Stevenage and London (Scott Brownrigg)

How are facilities at science parks - not just in the supporting town/city - being improved to make sure they attract the best talent to work at them?

Scott Brownrigg has been working on the master planning of Harlow Science Park and Bruce Calton, who is part of the Guildford office leadership team, stated that the suburban science park puts health and wellbeing at its heart:

'Post pandemic it is important to attract people to work at the park and you need attractions such as health and wellbeing facilities. You have got to offer more than buildings. I have been working on master planning the site which was a former sports field. If you are working in the innovation space, as an employee you need to get out of the office at lunchtime, be able to jog from the doorstep of the office but also have all the other facilities on hand such as cafes, creche and gyms. It is vital to support employees.'

The practice describes creating the setting for Harlow Science Park with the goal of meeting the needs of the ICT, Advanced Manufacturing and Life Science sectors. Taking an existing enterprise zone, it was tasked with reinterpreting the site for vibrant business activity, amenities and connections to the landscape, town centre and surrounding housing, while serving the London Cambridge corridor economy.

Bruce explained the value of the park's location:

'The park sits on the London to Cambridge corridor, and it is hitting a different price point for people to afford to live and work there. Harlow Science Park is trying to provide a service to those other cities and has strong links to the airport at Stansted. However, it is still the case that there is a struggle to get people out of Cambridge, to persuade a business to relocate, except for the price point. There are currently no new office spaces in Cambridge but Harlow as 20 plots available right now. The Harlow planning team is very progressive and can achieve consented building status in 28 days.'

Created alongside Newhall, a major residential development, the Science Park connects with new bus routes and a new primary link road. A teardrop shaped central heart provides social infrastructure supporting new businesses. 649,000 square feet of flexible space is master planned across 24 separate plots, arranged in a collegiate cluster of vital employment space.

Scott Browrigg says flexibility is key and the masterplan accommodates a range of business scales. This includes the Scott Brownrigg-designed Anglia Ruskin University Medtech Innovation Centre that opened in 2020, and advanced manufacturing plots such as Modus, together with flexible office space. The multi let office building ‘Nexus’, also designed by Scott Brownrigg and which completed in 2020, sits within the park, close to a new sculpture by Nick Hornby – the 100th major sculpture for the town.

Above: Harwell Science campus in 'science vale' Oxfordshire, 13 miles south of Oxford (Image from Harwell Campus)

How does careful planning protect areas of outstanding natural beauty, when science parks need to expand?

Owen Reading from town and urban planning firm, David Lock Associates, describes the importance of sensitive design in how land is used, as changing needs are accommodated:

'We have been working with the Science and Technologies Facilities Council to prepare a development plan for the UK's largest lab space at Harwell Science Park. It has a diverse range of facilities and the work carried out there for example in materials and imaging, underpins the future for life sciences as an industry. There is a lot of pressure for new facilities, and it is important to consider how the land of the site is used and how it grows most efficiently. It is quite a remote site, originally being used to carry out top secret atomic research, and the key to preserving it has been high quality place-making.

'It is situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty with public rights of way, as well as being quite a disparate site, where connections between buildings need to be made in order for it to function cohesively. It has been important for the master planning to reflect the wider context, with appropriate landscaping and making sure it is an asset to staff. To cope with this a design language was developed where materials were considered and edges sensitively dealt with, while acknowledging appropriate opportunities for development in a changing landscape with growth to the North.'

Above: The Bradfield Centre at night, Cambridge Science Park (from Trinity College Cambridge). Can the UK's science parks learn from development success at Cambridge, while responding to the need for growth at their own sites?

Deloitte Partner, Mike Standing, drew some conclusions together at the end of the discussion, suggesting that the quality of the debate about science campus development is 'light years ahead of where it was five years ago'. He said the UK is in a very good position to attract great investment and the appetite for this is shown in how lots of the spaces being developed on science parks are often already pre-let.

He continued:

'It is now time to design the long-term journey from cluster to supercluster. Cambridge is very expensive, and this means that different people will be attracted to different parks in the 'golden diamond' now. You can see it in Boston where the need to make something has pushed manufacturing outside the city to where land is cheaper. This emerging 'diamond' in the UK which is spreading out from Cambridge to places like Stevenage, is developing a system with varying costs of land, where expansion can happen. It is an attractive long-term model stretching over the next 20 years, where the overheating of Cambridge enables other areas.

'There needs to be a model of connectedness, not only a capital infrastructure with the layout of buildings but also an innovation system at the same time. This is essential to attract high calibre people and create a 24-hour campus where people have the ability to work together and where you get the most out of these campus buildings.

'It is really important that when you design facilities that you have worked out your unique selling proposition, asking what will you do differently here? Five years ago, everyone wanted to get into cancer research, but better to think about how to attract investment for something that isn't in a crowded market, particularly if your company is not next to a university.

'In terms of getting the translational research system to work properly, the Dutch have a very good model, that of the 'horizontal university'. It is fully integrated with specialist functions including for example, economics and biology departments to improve crop science, with the expertise enabling research to translate into practical solutions. In the US there is more of a tortuous process, which has to be usually of nine steps and its hard work. It requires process and coaching from business leaders. The question is how far do we want to go down these managed systems?'

Above: the concourse at Whitechapel station, remodelled for the arrival of the Elizabeth Line and providing additional access to the Royal London Hospital - designed by BDP. The station is an important interchange for both the Hammersmith & City and District lines and London Overground. BDP reinstated the main entrance on Whitechapel Road, while a spectacular walkway alongside the concourse provides a new public pedestrian route from the entrance on Durward Street to Whitechapel Road for local residents.

Sven Bunn from Barts in East London, thought the cross-faculty approach was a good one and stated that working with Queen Mary, University of London, does mean the ability to include humanities input from language experts to geographers and legal colleagues, both to aid understanding in the meaning of what the research is doing but also for precision healthcare:

'The real challenge is in how through you process the research through to the product and how does some benefit of commercialisation come back to science. At universities, we must ask how we create more commercial investment? In other countries such as China and Japan, the commercial investment is much more substantial. At the same time, we must be aware that data comes from patients - that they are the sources of research, and we must be careful that they are not taken advantage of.

'The research district must also benefit the community. There is a very good education system in Tower Hamlets that achieves great results but there is still economic deprivation. We must work at providing roots from education into employment, provide pathways and support to get people into higher paid roles.'

Mike Standing agreed with Sven about supporting a community:

'In the US, building clusters is about the social as well as the science because it creates an environment of job security. If your start up fails, you can join the university. There should be opportunity for both men and women and good housing so that as a family expands, the population wants to stay. This is the long-term view of intellectual capital and helps with the war on talent.'

Future Cities Forum was grateful to all those who took part in this discussion and looks forward to its next 'Science Cities' debate in Oxford next month.

Above: CGI from Heatherwick of the design for the Google campus building at Kings Cross, London - now mixed use and science district, adjacent to St Pancras International station and Central Saint Martin's College of Art in Granary Square


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